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Last Updated: Friday, 27 August, 2004, 18:17 GMT 19:17 UK
Najaf militants surrender shrine
Iraqis in the streets of Najaf
Iraqis came to the shrine as US forces and militants withdrew
A peace deal to end clashes in Najaf appears to be holding, as Shia rebels leave the Iraqi city's Imam Ali mosque and US forces pull back.

The deal was mediated by Iraq's top Shia leader, Ayatollah Ali Sistani, to end three weeks of fighting.

First thousands of pilgrims thronged the mosque, then as residents returned to the city, traffic jams formed.

At least 10 "charred and bloated" bodies have been found at a court run by Najaf revolt leader Moqtada Sadr.

The deputy police chief in Najaf said his officers had discovered a building containing the remains of people "convicted" by the court.

A correspondent for the Associated Press news agency said he saw about 10 charred and bloated bodies in the court building, including one of an elderly woman.

Police said the bodies belonged to police and civilians, but a court official said they were militants killed in recent fighting.

Melting away

Shia pilgrims had come to Najaf from all over Iraq, heeding a call by Mr Sistani to converge on the city.

Ayatollah Ali Sistani (L) and Moqtada Sadr
'Armed elements' in Najaf and Kufa to give up weapons
Iraqi police take control in the two cities
Foreign forces to withdraw
Iraqi government to pay compensation to those who suffered in crisis
A census and political process leading up to general elections

Some wept and kissed the walls of the shrine as they entered.

Loudspeakers within broadcast a call by Mr Sadr for his followers to leave the complex.

Correspondents say many of the fighters melted away with the worshippers as they left the shrine in the early afternoon.

Dozens of militants were seen piling their weapons on to carts.

However, a reporter for the AFP news agency said some fighters were carrying Kalashnikovs home in plastic bags and heavier weapons wrapped in canvas were being hidden in private houses in the old city.

Then there was silence on the streets. The American forces pulled most of their troops back and the Iraqi police moved in to take control of the city.

They were followed by traffic jams as people flooded back in to assess the damage and rebuild businesses.

In other developments:

  • Italy expresses outrage over the killing of Enzo Baldoni, an Italian journalist taken hostage in Iraq
  • A Kuwait firm says it will halt operations in Iraq to secure the release of seven kidnapped drivers
  • Militants who had kidnapped at least one relative of Iraqi Defence Minister Hazim al-Shalaan earlier this week release one of them, al-Jazeera television reports
  • In Baghdad, 12 US soldiers are wounded in multiple grenade attacks
  • US troops bomb the city of Falluja after a US aircraft reportedly comes under fire.

'Remarkable end'

The Najaf deal came after Ayatollah Sistani returned to Iraq from the UK, where he had been receiving medical treatment.

It is a remarkable end to a crisis that a day ago seemed to be going nowhere - and a major success for an elderly cleric with a heart problem who disobeyed his doctor's orders to bring peace to his holy city, says the BBC's Alastair Leithead in Najaf.

Our correspondent notes that an earlier peace agreement in June was short-lived. It remains to be seen, he says, whether Mr Sadr's supporters will be back in the days and weeks ahead.

These actions are intended to divert the public's attention from what is going on in the rest of Iraq
Ahmad Hassan al-Banna, Iraq

The deal negotiated with Moqtada Sadr has been welcomed by the US-backed interim government in Baghdad as a "great victory".

But a spokesman for Mr Sadr stressed that the fighters were disarming, not disbanding.

A spokesman for the interim government, Qassen Daoud, said Mr Sadr's supporters would be welcome to join the political process and Mr Sadr would be allowed to remain free.

Iraqi doctors say hundreds of people were killed or injured in the 22-day stand-off.

The BBC's Tim Muffett
"Iraqi police are now in control of the area around the shrine"

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